Archive for the ‘Liaison Reorganization’ Category

New space for the plenary sessions

New space for the plenary sessions — I liked it

Last time, I reported on the business librarian/business vendor discussion. Here are notes from a few other programs I attended at the Charleston Conference in early November.

Liaison Librarians in the Know: Methods for Discovering Faculty Research and Teaching Needs

Nora Wood (Business Librarian) and Melanie Griffin (Special Collections Librarian) of the University of South Florida led this “Lively Lunch” discussion:

Using a case study of a liaison re-envisioning project at a large, research-intensive public university as the framework for this session, we will discuss methods for determining the curriculum and research needs of faculty across disciplinary boundaries and ways for promoting library resources and services to departments across campus. [from the program description]

Nora is a new business librarian. Melanie is also the English Liaison. Nora is teaching a one-credit class for first year students on making the transition to college. As an aside, she noted that her teaching experience is helping her better understand the needs and experience of freshmen.

The USF librarians discussed how their library is re-envisioning their liaison model in response to faculty needs. In the process, they are discovering challenges in better understanding faculty research and instructional needs. USF is a fast-growing campus with 50,000 students, 42,000 of which are based on the main campus. But they only have 13 liaisons! (I complain that our liaison count has not grown as the UNCG student body and number of UNCG librarians have grown, but maybe our staffing level here is not as disappointing as I tend to think.)

Their environmental scan indicated that project and service learning classes are on the rise, with fewer classes writing traditional research papers (that would be good news to me!) They also examined usage data, interviewed administrators, and assembled lists of faculty publications. The USF librarians decided their questions should be tailored to the audience (administrators v. faculty, etc.) and should not be library-centric.

The USF librarians then pondered how to use this data to take action, and how to better communicate liaison services to faculty and academic departments.

One discussion point from the lively lunch participants: segment the researchers: untenured, tenured, named chairs, graduate students.

The USF liaisons identified areas of emphasis on campus:

  1. Freshmen success (retention)
  2. QEP
  3. More online classes
  4. Instruction still the emphasis, not research (according to the administrators, at least).

So action items taken or planned:

  • Textbook affordability project
  • Creating a first-year experience librarian position
  • Assisting with online classes
  • Asking to join more campus committees

Going forward, the questions for the liaisons include:

  • How to share all this collected data?
  • How to incorporate all this into daily liaison work?
  • How to measure if they are meeting current research and instruction needs?

Nora and Melanie alternated summaries of the USF experience with assigning us small group discussions. We ended with a final discussion involving everyone. Key points made:

  • Should do targeted outreach, instead of trying to target everyone. You will get better returns on your time.
  • Tap into campus goals, ex. the USF goal of 100% employment after graduation. Support that goal in any way you can. (Nora is already working with the Career Services Center.)
  • Is this research into campus needs a one-time project or ongoing? (A sustainable project? When does the ROI for learning something new get too low?)

Seeing that Students Succeed: Rising Expectations and the Library’s Role in Teaching and Learning

Kate Lawrence (Vice President, User Research, EBSCO Information Services) and Roger C. Schonfeld (Director, Library and Scholarly Communication Program, Ithaka S+R) led a discussion based on Ithaka S+R’s latest US Faculty Survey and recent research from Ebsco’s User Research Group.

Ithaka’s main finding is that “In recent years, expectations have increased not only for the library to demonstrate its impact on students but for universities to increase retention, progression, graduation, and later-life outcomes”. Ebsco studied “student research practices and the challenges they face, as well as the kinds of librarian-faculty partnerships that are effective in supporting students.” [quotes from the program description]

Much of this is not new to folks following trends in liaison roles. We could compare some of these findings to the ideas expressed at Nora Wood and Melanie Griffin’s Lively Luncheon (see above).

Roger’s study asked professors by type of school (4-year, masters, doctoral) to identify the most important functions of an academic library. He presented summary graphs. Information literacy was identified as the most important library function at both 4-year schools and masters-level schools. For doctoral schools, the functions of archiving, information literacy, providing access to research (ex. subscriptions), and supporting research were ranked very close. But over time, information literacy is growing in emphasis for all types of schools.

Kate described her unit’s ongoing ethnographic study of students and faculty in the U.S., U.K., and China. U.S. students tend to research and write papers using “microbursts of activities” rather than a steady amount of work over time.

Students’ research behavior is driven by efficiency. Some compared their research strategies to finding shortcuts to finish a level in gaming. Meanwhile, faculty research strategies are often driven by tradition. Adjunct instructors often feel left out but want library support.

The most impactful role of librarians in influencing student behavior is when the librarian is in the classroom teaching research alongside the professor.

There was some audience discussion. There are many models of embedded librarianship, but sustainability of that work remains a concern. It’s necessary to prioritize which classes to target.

There is a need for more assessment strategies to link library usage to student success and retention.

Several librarians expressed frustration with students who avoid reading scholarly journal articles, or don’t read past the abstract. I suggested (based on some interesting discussions I listened to at LOEX) that there is limited value in having lower-level undergraduates using peer-reviewed research articles in first place. Those young college students don’t have a background in the specialized, intellectual concepts (and jargon) used within an academic discipline, and certainly don’t have an understanding of  scholarly research methodologies, especially statistical analyses used so often in social science and natural science research. More appropriate sources would be feature articles in intelligent magazines like the Atlantic or the Economist.

Rolling On or Getting Rolled Over? Introducing New Functional Specializations in Academic Libraries

Rachel Fleming-May (Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences; University of Tennessee) and Jill Grogg (Licensing Program Strategist, LYRASIS, previously an electronic resources librarian) discussed how “individual functional specializations develop as sub-professions of academic librarianship.” They also compared “findings from large-scale surveys of librarians in two areas of specialization: Electronic Resources Management and Assessment.” [They noted that the Library Assessment Conference was going on at the same time up in D.C.]

Much of the discussion focused on how these specialists grow their skills and gain professional development. Rachel and Jill provided a bit of history. A decade ago, many of these functional specialists did not have a MLS, but now most do.

Rachel summarized a 2009-10 survey of ER librarians. The favorite method of professional development of these librarians was consulting with counterparts. They compared that survey to a 2015-16 survey of assessment librarians. The main tasks of these librarians was writing reports. Professional development focused on collaboration, but conferences and publications were also important.

The audience asked questions about other specialist roles, like first-year instruction or student success librarians. Are those also functional specialists? The speakers thought those roles overlapped with instruction librarians. They emphasized that functional specialists are based on specialized knowledge, but could be focused on public service, such as data service librarians. Someone noted that assessment librarians also need skills in telling stories and conducting ethnographic research.

I was interested in learning how functional specialists in these emerging areas do professional development. The discussion of definitions isn’t very important IMO. All functional specialists need development support, and the public service functional specialists need to collaborate with their local subject liaisons (and vice versa) to work their magic across campus.

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During lunch at my desk today, I took a look at my oft-neglected newsreader (for this time in the semester) and saw the article “ARL Library Liaison Institute: What we learned about needs and opportunities for reskilling” from the March issue of College & Research Libraries News. The article summarizes a 1.5-day workshop that brought together 50 liaisons from Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Toronto. A 34-page final report of the event is available at http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/library-liaison-institute-final-report-dec2015.pdf. The C&RLN article provides a concise recap, so I will just point out some things from the final report that I found particularly interesting.

The institute sounds like a larger and longer version of the “WFU & UNCG Liaison Benchmarking & Brainstorming” workshop we conducted together in May 2012, although our workshop had a focus on liaison organization as well as liaison roles. I wish there was more in the ARL report about how liaisons should be organized and led to achieve their goals. There are a few ideas. For example, from the “Next Steps” section near the end (p. 22):

Helping liaisons understand the big picture requires investment in training for managers and liaisons (both in core competencies and communication skills that provide the ability to look beyond the library as the center), but also an organizational structure for liaisons to collaborate (among themselves, with functional experts, beyond the confines of their departments or disciplines). Setting up a team-based model might be one way to encourage such collaboration.

Also, on page 23, regarding follow-up activity at Columbia:

Finally, the libraries addressed a recent vacancy in the Journalism Library with a new approach to filling the interim position. A team of librarians from the science, social science, and humanities libraries was created to fill the interim journalism librarian position. The libraries see this team approach as a possible model going forward for permanent positions, breaking down disciplinary silos and better integrating research methods.

Sounds interesting! I hope the Columbia folks have followed what has happened in Arizona with team liaison assignments to academic departments. The two situations are a bit different, though – in its previous model, Arizona Journalism faculty would have to decide which functional team to contact for a particular need.

Also, “Scenario Two” on page 9 involved liaison teams. However, we can’t tell what major themes came out of the Scenario Two teams compared to the other scenario teams.

The write-up of the “healthy debate” on the value of subject expertise (pages 10-11 and also 21) is interesting. While few of the liaisons here at UNCG in my time have preferred the traditional bibliographer expert model of liaison work, we have had some discussions like this. So what is the mix of subject and functional skills a liaison should have? Does the need for that mix vary by subject area (ex. business versus history)? But without strong skills in outreach, teaching, and advocacy, can you do much with your subject expertise besides ordering books? (Trying to be provocative here).

Also interesting was that some librarians were offended by the customer segmentation and value proposition exercise (11-16). Sounds like a really useful exercise that could help liaisons reconsider traditions and pre-conceived notions of what our customers err patrons need. Some of the suggestions were more interesting than others.

The summary of “what kind of support they need from library administrators” on page 18 reminds me of some of the goals of our liaison reorganization that began in 2013 – more relevant and frequent training; less time in meetings; use of teams; etc.

The report concludes with “concrete next steps that Columbia, Cornell, and Toronto are taking as a result of the Library Liaison Institute.” Lots of communication and sharing of course. But I also came away with respect for these large institutions (especially Toronto) for re-envisioning liaison work in very complex organizations. In comparison, almost all liaisons at UNCG and WFU work in the main library. So credit to those three schools for running an institute like this.

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A short follow-up to a previous post that left some questions unanswered. Nothing very new or profound here, but since our review of assignments connects to our liaison reorganization goals, I thought I should provide a short update.

Written on November 4:

Back in May I wrote about our planned holistic review of social science liaison assignments being postponed. The posting of our First Year Instruction position (which will include a small number of social science liaison assignments) was also delayed due to a late budget coming out of our state legislature. Recently our Provost gave us the green light to post that position.

Since Nancy our senior colleague is retiring at the end of the semester, she would like to be able to inform her 10 departments who their liaison will be (or least their interim liaison). So the Social Science Team meet on October 30 to (finally) work on a holistic review of assignments.

The team wrote on a whiteboard all the social science departments and programs for which we have liaison assignments. We did generally apply the strategies listed in my May post:

  • considering our existing relationships with faculty in those departments
  • considering our current skill sets and subject knowledge
  • grouping related academic programs
  • etc.

We identified a few departments — Gerontology, Human Development & Family Studies, Social Work — for which we don’t really have liaisons with relevant backgrounds, frankly. Will our new colleague? There is a lot of health science research done in those departments, but our Health Sciences Librarian is already very busy serving the needs of many programs, including growing PhD programs. So I’m curious to see what we will do with those three departments.

It was an interesting discussion and we all felt kind of proud with ourselves for having it I think.

The next step is to give all the liaisons a chance to weigh in on the team’s recommendations. It’s not essential for everyone to be there, but we should at least have representation from the Humanities and Science Teams. Some of the proposed changes might affect them, and the process may help us better handle when a senior colleague with a large number of mostly humanities departments retires someday.

Written today, November 20:

On Wednesday, Mary our liaison leader led an all-liaison meeting to discuss the Social Science team’s plan from October 30. The SocSci folks reviewed what we thought should factor into a holistic discussion and shared our ideas for temporary coverage of Nancy’s areas until we hire our new colleague.

I wasn’t there – had to help evaluate final presentations in the feasibility analysis class – but friends in our Humanities and Sciences team told me the discussion was without controversy. They liked the holistic approach. Someone suggested it should be done every few years even if we don’t have new liaisons on board. They also reaffirmed having liaisons collaborate on the more interdisciplinary departments, like Geography, as needed.

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This is a short follow-up to an October post that provided our recent NCLA presentation slides. I posted the slides quickly to share with other conference goers, but would like to add a few notes from the discussion that ended the program.

We (Richard Moniz, Marla Means, and I) learned while developing the program that it is actually pretty hard to cleanly separate subject liaison work from functional liaison work, despite the program title we chose. Many liaisons have to provide both subject and functional services. Maybe a better framework for comparison is balancing subject and functional skill sets, not roles.

The session’s final agenda item was discussing best practices in balancing subject versus functional liaison roles. Here is the summary:

  • Use liaison teams (if your library has enough liaisons to make teams work). Each major functional role could have a team (as is the case at UNCG, along with our three subject teams). Then teams can work together as needed. For example, the science team can work with the scholarly communication team on training and outreach.
  • Or at least pair up a subject liaison with functional expert as needed. For example, the psychology librarian could take the data services librarian to a Psychology Departmental meeting to discuss data management services.
  • Provide lots of training
  • But also have an authority figure in your library establish that it’s ok to ask questions and admit to not being an expert in a functional area
  • Finally (related to above), establish core competencies for functional roles. Expect all subject liaisons to have some base knowledge about scholarly communication options and strategies, for example.

That last idea is appealing to me. This would actually help protect subject liaisons — they would operate under a clearly defined set of expectations. Otherwise they wouldn’t know how much they are expected to know, nor when the functional expert should be called in for support. The uncertainty of not knowing would be stressful.

After drafting those core competencies as a group, then make sure that workshops and personal learning time are provided before the competencies go into effect. Update the competencies as needed.

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Marla, Richard, & Steve presenting at NCLA 2015

Marla, Richard, & Steve presenting at NCLA 2015

Marla Means, Richard Moniz, and I presented at NCLA 2015 today on “The Expanding Role of the Academic Liaison: Balancing Subject Versus Functional Skills” (PDF).

[Summary of the final discussion with the audience]

Marla introduced the topic and provided definitions. Richard discussed the Johnson & Wales University Library in Charlotte, NC as a small library case study. I summarized the interesting experiment at the University of Arizona of having only functional liaisons, and briefly presented UNCG’s team model of subject v. functional teams.

Good comments, ideas, and questions from the audience. Thanks for everyone who came.

There are some cites and links at the end of the PDF.


“For liaison services, subject knowledge used to be enough. Now functional skills are increasingly important — academic libraries are expanding their outreach and advocacy efforts into data curation, scholarly communication, information literacy, distance education services, etc. How should libraries balance these two types of liaison roles? Should libraries hire functional specialists to partner with the subject liaisons, or somehow train subject liaisons to pick up the needed functional expertise? And how should these functional and subject specialists be organized and managed? Two librarians representing a small and large library and a LIS student doing an independent study on liaison trends will lead a discussion on these questions. With help from the participants, we will conclude with suggested best practices.”

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I returned from vacation on Monday, just in time for our liaison teams’ half-day retreat. In preparation for the event, our liaison leader Mary Krautter considered three recent articles on liaison trends for possible group discussion. She chose one for the retreat, but all three are interesting. (Thank you, Mary, for sharing these.)


From Engaging Liaison Librarians to Engaging Communities” by Anne R. Kenney. College & Research Libraries. 75th Anniversary Issue. May 2015, 76:386-391

This short article is a “companion essay” to Kara Malenfant’s 2010 article “Leading Change in the System of Scholarly Communication: A Case Study of Engaging Liaison Librarians for Outreach to Faculty” (reprinted in this special issue). Rather than provide an update from Minnesota’s experience, Kenney summarizes “six key issues that will affect the [liaison] model moving forward.”

She recognizes right away that the so-called “liaison movement” has many models: different strategies for providing subject-based and functional services, for example, and liaison programs that intentionally include or exclude collection development work. Kenney mentions the possibility of liaison teams, but otherwise focuses on liaison roles at the expense of different strategies for organizing and leading liaisons. (We talked about this problem at ACRL recently.)

Some of the other issues are general academic library trends applied to the roles of liaisons, like assessment and advocacy on scholarly communications.


A Method for Evaluating Library Liaison Activities in Small Academic Libraries” by Jonathan Miller. Journal of Library Administration. 2014. 54(6) 483-500.

Miller (Rollins College) provides a “practical method for formative, self-reflective assessment of the liaison activities of individual librarians and to evaluate liaison activities in general.”

The emphasis is assessing individual liaisons. [See the Shelfer article below for another example of this, but without the survey instrument.] In the published literature, the library found no usable models for assessing individual liaisons and so started from scratch. (I think if this library had asked via library listservs for unpublished models, they would have received a number of them. UNCG has used some.)

After the literature review, Miller describes the reform of their largely unmanaged liaison program into a “Your Librarian” program. Instruction had been the main focus of this group of liaisons; after reforming, more liaisons also worked with collections. The library’s description of “Your Liaison” roles (Appendix A) reads like the typical roles for liaisons assigned to academic departments. The description includes an interesting “Tips & Tricks” section. Examples: “No, means not yet. Be persistent” and “Solve their problems on their terms, not ours” – very cool.

The assessment survey is provided as Appendix B. The guts of the form is a checklist of outreach activities like “She/he solved a problem for me or my student(s.)” and “He/she sought my opinion about library resources (journals, databases, books, etc.)”.

The vast majority of faculty who filled out the survey properly identified their liaison, which speaks very well for the Rollins College liaisons (although perhaps there was some self-selection regarding which faculty bothered to fill out the form; 59% of the respondents reported that a liaison taught in their classes). Miller notes that asking faculty about those possible outreach services also educates faculty about what the liaisons can do for them – a wonderful side effect of liaison surveys.

The survey results are prepared for each liaison. (Miller doesn’t tell us who prepares and sorts the data – but he is the director and so I bet he does that work.) In response, each liaison has to prepare a “draft liaison plan” that covers the next two years of liaison work. Then each liaison meets with the library director to discuss his/her survey results and liaison plan. The individual liaison’s results are compared to the aggregate results. The liaisons also meet to review the aggregate results and share successful outreach strategies. The big goal here is creating a culture of “continuous reflective improvement.”

Miller notes thoughtfully that power relations between the librarians and faculty are always at play and need to be considered:

Honest, reflective, formative self-assessment is difficult at the best of times. It is made even more difficult when, for instance, an untenured librarian is asked by the library director to consider and respond to negative responses from faculty…Librarians who choose to implement a version of this liaison evaluation procedure should explicitly consider these issues of power and employment status at the outset to avoid later misunderstandings.

An excellent, well-written, and useful article.

(If this topic is important to you, take a look at ACRL’s 2014 book Assessing Liaison Librarians: Documenting Impact for Positive Change, edited by Daniel Mack and Gary White. It’s sitting on my desk but I haven’t looked at it yet.)


Librarians as Liaisons: A Risk Management Perspective” by Katherine M. Shelfer. Journal of the Library Administration & Management Section. Spring2014, 10(2): 21 [Available through Ebsco’s Library, Information Science & Technology database]

The writing here can be curious. Example:

“Librarian liaisons must be able to adapt, communicate, discover, flex, focus, lead, meet, seize, strive, serve, and work in teams to add value to their communities.”

Yet Shelfer raises some interesting and important points, especially regarding assessment practices applied to liaison work. Consider:

“Service performance metrics that emphasize administratively convenient categories tend to push each librarian liaison to provide every service to every member of every subpopulation, regardless of goodness of fit. However, services are actually ‘rationed’ in that services available to some are not available to all for a number of good and sufficient reasons. Also, the levels of ‘expertise’ vary, so librarian liaisons are not interchangeable.”

Shelfer is an LIS professor and can get pretty intellectual, but also expresses empathy for the challenges of being a liaison: “Some liaisons will not be successful, despite everyone’s best efforts, for reasons that are beyond that individual liaison’s control”. She advocates for rewarding liaisons who partner with others or work in a liaison team to reduce risk of outreach failures.

Shelfer offers advice to library administrators on how to best support and assess liaisons. Library managers, not liaisons, should be the ones to deliver any bad news to academic departments, she asserts; liaisons should remain positive advocates for their stakeholders. Library managers should not utilize “identical job descriptions, rigid activity plans and quotas” since department needs vary. And managers should work with liaisons to balance liaison workloads.

She surveyed liaisons at an unnamed college library regarding their outreach efforts. In response to the results, the library’s Outreach Coordinator worked with the liaisons to provide better support of largely untouched academic departments via liaison partnerships. A few liaisons refused to participate in the follow-up reports and discussions, given their distrust of library administrators. (Power relations again, as Miller would put it. Or collections-centered liaisons resisting the need for evolving liaison roles?)

Shelfer concludes with a series of “problematic choice behaviors” in libraryland outreach strategies that go way beyond the power of individual liaisons to affect (ex. complex social and economic issues like digital divides).

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[Update posted in November 2015]

Last month in the “Catching up” section, I wrote about one of my senior colleagues retiring in December. She currently covers 10 academic departments, mostly in the social sciences. We have been discussing the nature of the replacement position and how the social science team will handle revised liaison assignments:

We hope to advertise the open position this summer and have the new colleague on board in January. The liaison team leaders have meet for a preliminary discussion about what this position should focus on, and the Social Science team will meet next week to discuss a holistic review of our social science liaison coverage. Being holistic about the departmental assignments was a goal of our liaison reorganization — now we will give that a try. I’ll post about how that is going in May.

Alas, that holistic review didn’t actually happen.

My colleague wants to keep her liaison assignments through December, with the exception of Psychology, which one of the science librarians with medical library experience will be taking on this summer. But my retiring colleague will be writing up some of her institutional knowledge of those academic programs for the benefit of the next liaisons for those departments.

So the holistic review will probably wait until January. We hope to have our new colleague by then, so he/she will be able to participate in that discussion. (The new person will probably split time between freshmen instruction (with others) and social science liaisoning.)

But at that most recent social science meeting, we did at least brainstorm what a holistic review would look like. The heads of the Humanities and Science teams attended the meeting too and contributed to the discussion.

Nature of a holistic review

A holistic review of our liaison assignments to academic departments, programs, etc. has been a goal of our reorganization since the early days of that planning process.

In response to our ACRL program, several librarians have asked what the impact our liaison reorganization is having on students and faculty.  That’s a good question. This kind of liaison assignment review might be one answer, if the result is better service to the faculty and students.

So here is what we think a holistic review will look like:

  • Matching liaisons with academic subjects they have subject knowledge
  • Matching liaisons with academic subjects they have interest
  • Clustering academic departments together in useful ways (ex. those requiring significant data services, or heavy users of primary sources in the humanities).
  • Similarly, having one liaison serve all the departments in a small school, to facilitate branding (“Hi! I’m the education librarian!”) and expand liaison outreach to the school’s administration office and research centers.
  • Balancing the expected workloads of the liaison assignments (ex. taking into account the amount of teaching and consulting expected – currently, our service stats vary widely by liaison).
  • But recognizing that an academic department that historically “hasn’t really needed or wanted liaison services” could in fact become a department that embraces library instruction and consultations, after some fresh outreach and partnership-building. (This has happened at UNCG recently with some of the sciences.)
  • Also recognizing and balancing a department’s need for subject skills versus functional skills (partnering with the functional specialists? See below for a related point).
  • Creating co-liaison assignments to help serve very large departments or those with complex needs. (We once had two English liaisons, one focusing on their big book budget and the other on services – that partnership worked out well for both liaisons as well as the English faculty and students).

So maybe in January I’ll post about how our holistic shifting of our social science assignments went. No promises this time, though!

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